Upon first meeting the Jennings family when The Americans premiered in 2013, it was easy to like them immediately. Sure, Elizabeth (Keri Russell) and Philip (Matthew Rhys) were Russian spies stealing American secrets for the Soviet Union. And sure, they frequently left their children, Paige and Henry, alone at night to don wigs and track government officials through the streets of Washington, D.C. But there was something inherently relatable about the family and their comfortable life in the Northern Virginia suburbs. They were any bickering family, even if this particular family had been manufactured as a front for Russians to spy in the United States.
It was also a bittersweet ending for the Jennings' FBI agent neighbor Stan (Noah Emmerich). He finally got his payoff, confirming that his longtime neighbors were the Russian agents he’d been searching for all along, but his worldview was shattered (and his wife may or may not a spy herself—we can only suppose by her lingering looks in the final scenes). In an interview before the season six premiere, Emmerich told Playboy that The Americans is, in essence, a show about relationships and identity, a fact that is important in considering its legacy and how fans will remember it.
“All of the spy craft and all the sexy espionage make it fun and captivating and enticing, but the meat of it has always been the humanity of it,” the actor told us. “How we hold ourselves in the world and how we relate to each other. Our true selves versus our presented selves. It’s not really about spies—it’s about people. That's the strength of the show, and what drew me to it in the first place, and what I feel has been carried on elegantly.”
In a time when there is a constant deluge of content, with far more TV shows than one could possibly watch, it’s nice to spotlight a show that so carefully considered humanity and all the shades of grey. The Americans has never been about Russia versus the U.S., or the KGB versus the FBI, and our loyalty as viewers has always simply been with the characters. We rooted for everyone because we liked everyone and sympathized with them. The final showdown between Philip and Stan was so affecting because we wanted both of them to prevail, and there was no conceivable way for that to happen. It’s odd to realize that for six seasons, we’ve been siding with the Russian spies, particularly in light of current events.
It’s odd to realize that for six seasons, we’ve been siding with the Russian spies, particularly in light of current events.
The series hasn’t always earned the best ratings, even though TV critics and fans have always pushed hard for new viewership. However, the shelf life of The Americans feels indefinite, largely because family dynamics never really change. There’s also something relatable about a family, whether it’s in the ‘80s or today. We can all understand the tension between a mother and a daughter, or the semi-abandonment felt by the younger child who gets overlooked for an elder sibling. The Jennings happened to be an extraordinary family, but in many ways, they were also just another family living on a suburban street somewhere in America. If anything, the finale answered the age-old conundrum of how to best balance work and home life, reminding us that there is no duty so important that it’s worth sacrificing family—even if that duty is being dictated by the KGB.